Keys to the Tennis Court

Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination. – Gretchen Rubin

One of the “side-effects” of being president of the United States is that everyone who has ever met you comes out with a biography about your life – both during and after your presidency. There are always famous stories about each president like Ronald Reagan’s love of jelly beans or George W. Bush’s favorite sidekicks, his dogs Barney and Miss Beazley.

One of the things that President Jimmy Carter was known for was being so detailed-oriented and so committed to being a great steward of the resources that he was entrusted with that he became the bottleneck of his own administration. One of the famous stories about him is that, while he didn’t mind members of his team using the White House tennis courts, you had to request the keys from him personally – yes, the president of the United States held the keys to the tennis court.


Stories have been told that he reviewed every single request to use the tennis courts during at least the first six months of his presidency and would mark the request ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and sign the note with a J – his initial. Later on, he realized this wasn’t practical and eventually gave up this responsibility. This story serves as a great lesson to us as leaders.

Sometimes, as we gain influence in our leadership, we forget that we have to give up some of the small things in order to step into our new roles. If you don’t let go of the smaller things, you will not be able to take your project, your team or your organization to the next level.

One of my rules of leadership is: If someone else on your team can do something equally as well as you can, they should be the one to do it. This not only frees up your time and capacity as a leader, but it also builds their leadership capacity for taking on new experiences and executing bigger strategies.

Good leaders surround themselves with people who they trust, people who are ready to take the baton and run with it. Great leaders know that the key to accelerated leadership is to remove the keys to the tennis courts from their own desks and put them in the hands of someone who is equally able to lead that strategy well.

Always Forward.

Question: What things are you holding onto that you should pass off to someone else on your team? What is your version of the “keys to the tennis courts?”

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